Whether you travel over the Trans-Siberian Railroad or simply want to see Siberian nature, Baikal is undoubtedly one of the most curious places in Russia. The lake is rather unique scientifically, and it is very suitable for ecotourism, hiking and adventurous tours. You couldn’t find such flora and fauna nowhere in the world. In this respect Baikal is very similar to Australia where there are also a large number of endemics. There you can see nerpa (Baikal seal), the world`s only freshwater mammal, and of course Siberian bears.
One or two days aren’t enough to see the real beauty of Baikal. It will be enough only for a short boat trip starting from Irkutsk or visiting settlement Listvyanka. It would be most preferable to go to Baikal for 1-2 weeks. This term is due to great spaces, which you need to overcome to see the most beautiful places (the length of the lake is 636 km.), as well as poor roads. The most popular tourist attractions are Olkhon Island and Eastern Baikal.
It is only possible to bathe in Baikal in July or August, and only in shallow bays at that, such as Maloye Morye near Olkhon Island or Chivyrkuysky Gulf on the Eastern Baikal. Water warms up to 20 °C there. And it is almost impossible to bathe in the central part of the lake. Water warms up only to 15 °C in hot August days, and generally its temperature is nearer to 10 °C.
• Baikal is the deepest lake in the world. Baikal is the deepest lake on the planet (1642 m.) In second place is Lake Tanganyika (Africa) at 1470 m, following which is the Caspian Sea at 945 m, and Lake Nyasa (Africa) with a depth of 706 metres.
• Baikal is the largest freshwater storage in the world. The volume is 23 thousand km3. The area of Baikal is almost equal to the territory of Belgium. Its water supply is larger than all five Great Lakes combined. According to some calculations, all population of the Earth (6 billion people) could only drink Baikal water for 40 years.
• Baikal is the purest freshwater reservoir. Its exclusive purity is due to billions of epischura. This small, 1.5 mm long crustacean plays an important role in the pelagic ecosystem. The epischura plays an exceptional part in Baikal`s life circle. Without any exaggeration, one can say that the epischura is the major filter of Baikal In its transparency Baikal takes the lead over the Caspian Sea (25 metres). In this respect it competes with various seas, taking second place only to the extremely transparent Sargasso Sea (66 metres). In Baikal, a disc with a 30 cm diameter is visible up to a depth of 40 metres in the best conditions for observations, that is, in spring after the lake is freed from ice.
• Baikal is the oldest lake. According to scientists, the age of Baikal is 25 million years, so it is the oldest lake on the planet. Generally, the lakes of Ice Age, such as Baikal, «live» for about 10-15 million years, and then they are filled with deposits and disappear. On the contrary, Baikal rupture annually widens by 2 cm, similar to Africa and Southern America.
• Peschanaya bay (1 day). Take a hydrofoil at Irkutsk riverside station and first go down the Angara for several hours, and then between the rocky shores of Baikal. During the journey you can take many snapshots of Baikal. The destination is Peschanaya Bay. Here you can see so-called "walking-on-stilts" trees. They are larches with ramified root system. The bay has a very beautiful beach, where you can bathe, although the water, as everywhere in Baikal, is rather cold. It warms up only in August. There are several paths going from the bay. They help to understand what real taiga is.
• Circumbaikal Railroad (1 day). In 1903 there was constructed a railroad, rounding Southern Baikal. However, after Irkutsk hydropower plant had been constructed in 1973 Angara segment of the railroad was flooded. And Baikal segment of the railroad was turned into tourist attraction. On Sundays old steam locomotive goes there. At the stations it is met by people clothed in Siberian garments of the past years, making various performances. Generally, it is a travel to Siberian village of the 19th century.
Trips starting from Listvyanka:
If you decided to go to Listvyanka, it isn’t a bad choice too. There are many hotels in this small settlement, from comfortable facilities complying with world standards to private B&B establishments.
Listvyanka is located at the very source of Angara. The main tourist attraction is performance of tamed nerpes (Baikal seals).
As to visiting beautiful places of Baikal, there are some problems with regular tours, but if you have enough money, you can easily charter a boat for any private excursion. But remember that it will cost several hundreds of USD.
• Boat trip to the source of Angara River (3-4 hours). Over 300 rivers flow into Baikal, and only one river flow out of it, the Angara. Baikal`s depth difference is very conspicuous there. Several dozens of meters of the source the lake`s depth is about 1400 m., and near the mouth of the river its depth is only 5 m. At the mouth of the river there is the Shaman Rock. There are many legends connected with it. It is believed that wishes thought of on the Rock are sure to come true. But it is rather difficult to climb on the rock, as the flow is very swift and water is very cold in this place. And if somebody succeeds in it, the boat is quickly carried away and his only wish is «to get out from this rock».
• Ship trip to Circumbaikal Railroad (6 hours). During this trip the ship goes along the picturesque rocky shore of Baikal to the bay. There you leave the ship and go on the old road for about a kilometer, including through the old and fairly long tunnel built 1903. Near the abandoned station «Katorzanka» tourists take a bath, return to the ship and go back.
• Tramp over the mountain path to the village Bolshiye Koty (half a day). To the north from Listvyanka, you can take a walk over the mountains of Baikal. If you are going to walk a little and return to Listvyanka, it is better to go over the mountains in the immediate vicinity of the shore. It must be noted that the first three kilometers of the path are very hard and in some place even dangerous. It is desirable to have easy footwear and good shape.
It must be noted that the nearest village Bolshiye Koty is about 20 km off, therefore, if want to return to Listvyanka you shouldn’t go very far. If you decided to put a tent on the shore, then, surely, you can go as far as Peschanaya Bay (60 km.), where you can take a boat to Irkutsk.
Listvyanka (it takes 1 day)
Irkutsk is only 66 km of the lake. There is fairly good road to the nearest village Listvyanka. You might think that you would be at Baikal in an hour. However, if you have only 1 or 2 to visit the lake, it would be better to take the hydrofoil «Barguzin» at the riverside station of Irkutsk.
Listvyanka isn’t very convenient for short trips, as in spite of a large number of hotels, and consequently, a large number of tourists, no regular tours over the most beautiful places of Baikal are offered there. Actually, Listvyanka is on the bank of the lake, but it isn’t its most beautiful places and it would be rather difficult to perceive all the beauty of Baikal there. As to excursions, you can be offered to go to the old railroad or simply visit the village, where there is nothing to see. Also, you can take some Irkutsk boat, but they aren’t always make a stop in Listvyanka.
One of the main attractions of the village is tamed nerpes and Baikal museum. In the afternoon you can go to the market and taste Baikal specialty – smoked omul. Smoking of this fish is the main trade of the citizens of Listvyanka. There is no night life in the village.
Peschanaya Bay (it takes 1 day)
It is an inimitably beautiful nook of the lake where Nature has gathered and generously given man the blue sky, a vast space of Baikal, the amber-like quicksand of its beaches and the healthy air of the Baikal taiga.The Bay is 80 kilometers of Listvyanka and 160 kilometers of Irkutsk. It takes 3.5 hours to get there from Irkutsk.
Deep in the bay, in the pine grove there are houses, tents and other facilities for tourists. There are 2 tourist hostels: «Baikal Dunes», a comfortable complex accommodating 80 people, and «Peschanaya Bay», a dilapidated hostel accommodating 200 people.
The soft sand and emerald green water of the lake are magnetic, but the Baikal water is available for swimming only for a healthy sound person - in August the surface waters are warmed only up to +4, +16°C.
Peschanaya Bay is the sole place on the lake where one can see miraculous "walking-on-stilts" trees, a real wonder of Baikal. They grow on a sand dune near Bolshoi Kolokolny Rock. The trees have risen above the earth on their stilt-like roots, from under which water and winds blow out the soil. Amateur fishermen may experience real fishing happiness, and tourists dreaming of hiking may go along picturesque mountain paths to feel exhilaration and harmony with Nature that feels everyone who ever encounters "the Siberian pearl".
Olkhon island (1 or 2 days). If you have at least one week to visit the most beautiful places of Baikal, you must go to Olkhon Island. It is 300 km of Irkutsk, and the roads aren’t very good. It takes at least 5 hours to get there by car and at least 7 hours – by bus. So, you must be prepared to spend the first day of your trip only on moving. In summer you can also take a hydrofoil from Irkutsk to Olkhon (travel time is 7 hours). In summer the ferry runs to the island every half hour. If you are going to be at Olkhon Island in spring or autumn, you must inquire into the ferry schedule.
There are a lot of campings on Olkhon Island. In the village Khuzir there is “Olkhon Island” (up to 40 people). Near Khuzir there is Shamanka Rock (or Burkhan Cape), one of the sacred sites of the Buryat people. This rock is one of the most recognizable sites of Baikal. There is a cave called Shaman in it. Its depth is about 6 meters. In ancient times in cave held shamanistic rites. Later, there was built the altar of Buddha.
To the north from Khuzir there is a wonderful Saraysky Bay
The sandy beach is 3 km long and the width is about 1 km. Cosy meadows and glades surrounded by pine forest are behind the sandy banks. The bay is shallow and in summer the water is warm enough to swim.
At the midsection of the western coast of Lake Baikal between the mainland and Olkhon Island stretches a strait known as Maloye Morye (the Small Sea). Its area is about 90 km2. It isn’t very deep comparing with the rest of Baikal, so its waters have time to warm up. Therefore, it is just here that you could have a sound rest in the wild: very beautiful rocky shores, which are curious to explore, taiga woodlands, which are interesting to walk in, very picturesque bays and sandy beaches, where you can sunbathe, and delicious Siberian food, Russian baths and vodka in the evening (all depending on everyone`s demands). What else do you need to rest far from civilization? However, be careful, as in the area there may be many wild tourists and, as a rule, they leave a lot of garbage.
Wild nature of Baikal has a peculiar atmosphere, as Siberian taiga hasn’t yet been so affected by human activity as, say, American national parks. On one hand, it creates certain problems (for example, any long trip takes at least half a day or even the entire day, providing the quality of roads), but on the other hand, if you want a safe rest in taiga wood, it is undoubtedly one of the world`s most beautiful place.
Ushkany Islands (national reserve)
Ushkany Islands are located in the middle part of Lake Baikal, about 7 km to the west from the Holy Nose Peninsula. The archipelago consists of four islands: the Big, the Narrow, the Round and the Long. The archipelago contains unique fauna and flora and especially mild continental climate. The islands` rocky shores serve as a popular resting place for Baikal seals and constitute the largest rookery (seal colony) of Lake Baikal. The Baikal seal (nerpa) is the only freshwater pinniped species on earth and it inhabits only the deep waters of Lake Baikal. There is no free access to the Ushkany Islands as it is the territory of national reserve.
You can rent a boat to sail around the islands (it may cost up to several hundreds of dollars). However, such trip takes 2-3 days, as it is about 120 km from Olkhon to the islands, and you have to sail for at least a day. During the trip you are sure to see some resting places of Baikal seals (nerpa).